Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work

Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work

Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work

Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work

Synopsis

Best known for her masterpiece, The Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett (1849–1909) is a writer with enormous resonance for our time. Our fascination with place, with traditional values, and our yearning for a rural utopia all find fulfillment in Jewett's portrayal of the "grand and simple lives" of coastal Maine. In this delicious portrait, Paula Blanchard (biographer of Margaret Fuller and Emily Carr) plunges us into New England literary life in turn-of-the-century Boston, into the circles of Henry James, Lowell, Howells, Whittier, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. She delves into Jewett's close friendships with women, from the young Willa Cather and the flamboyant "Mrs. Jack" Gardner, and especially to Annie Fields, her partner in a sustaining "Boston marriage." Her enthralling and insightful glimpses into Jewett's fiction will send readers racing back to a writer of whose work Kipling said "It is the very life."

Excerpt

In 1 9 1 5 , W I T H T H E B O M B A R D M E N T S across the English Channel almost near enough to rattle the cups in his china cabinet, Henry James looked back on the last quarter of the nineteenth century in America as the time of "our ancient peace." When the Civil War ended he had just been entering his twenties, and he remembered thinking that so bloody and exhausting a conflict must be the final price America would have to pay for becoming the country she was meant to be. He now looked back at those "deep illusions and fallacies"—for so the horrors of 1915 made them appear—with "some soreness of confusion between envy and pity." The innocence of Americans' renewed faith in themselves had in it something of the pathetic, given how it had ended; yet the beauty of the ideal retained its hold on the present. Recalling that time, James said, "I see nothing but our excuses. I cherish at any rate the image of their bright plausibility." ("Mr. and Mrs. James T. Fields," The Atlantic Monthly, July 1915)

In the midst of this golden quarter century and representing it, James's memory placed Boston publisher James T. Fields, his wife, Annie, and—later, during Annie's widowhood—Sarah Orne Jewett. In the Fieldses' "long and narrow drawing-room" (it was really the library), The Atlantic Monthly had been born in 1857, and there the best-loved authors of the prewar generation, including Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Whittier, and Holmes, had met and thrived under the patronage of Fields, "that faithfully . . .

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